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January Austin murders up ahead of record-breaking 2020

After a year filled with the highest murder count in the last 20 years, one month into 2021, the murder rate continues to raise concerns, with more homicides reported than this time last year.

At the end of January, the Austin Police Department reported five murders, one more than in January 2020 and three more than in January 2019.

Lt. Jeff Greenwalt, with APD's homicide and aggravated assault unit, said this is the highest murder rate Austin has seen since the mid-1990s, but cautioned that it's still too early to tell what the rest of the year holds.

"If you wanted to look at just one month then we're ahead but we don't try to draw long-term predictions out of just a little bounce of data," Greenwalt said. "We could potentially start fast and even out the same or less, we don't know."

The murder rate has varied over the last few years but has been on an upward trend since 2017. After a spike year of 40 murders in 2016, 2017 saw 25, followed by 34 in 2018, 36 in 2019 and 48 in 2020.

In the 1990s, APD sent out a task force to proactively monitor groups that were likely to commit violent crimes that could end in murder. Despite the 90s having the highest murder rate to date, the task force at the time kept the murder rate much lower than it could have been, Greenwalt said.

Today, murders tend to come from the same types of groups: gangs and drug rings mostly, Greenwalt explained. But with limited resources—due to recent budget cuts and a spike in resignations after the mass protests last summer—the same kind of task force is no longer an option.

Austin City Council voted unanimously in August to cut the APD budget by approximately $20 million—or about 5%—including eliminating funding for three planned police cadet classes. Greenwalt said the effects of defunding the police may become apparent in 2021.

"In 2021, police officers and police departments need the support to augment patrol and to work on violent groups of people in violent situations," Greenwalt said. "If we don't have those resources, then those situations get out of control and bad things happen, and we just don't have that as much as we have in the past. We need the officers to feel supported. We need to know that our district attorney's office is going to support the charges that we put through."

Because murders tend to be committed by people already in the criminal justice system, Greenwalt said the real problem is recidivism, or the tendency for a convicted criminal to reoffend. Greenwalt said they see the same names over and over. In one case APD arrested the same man five times in one year for violent felonies because he had able to bond out of jail.

Sasha Skare, who has an arrest warrant out for a murder that occurred in San Antonio last week, had been released on a personal recognizance bond from Austin before she committed the crime. Sometimes suspected murderers are even wearing an ankle monitor when they're arrested by police, such as in the case of Adelaido Bernabe Urias, an ice cream man who was murdered last year, Greenwalt said.

"There's a lot of really violent people who are slipping through the cracks," Greenwalt said. "These are not one-off scenarios, there's dozens and dozens of examples of people getting off on a PR bond all in the name of criminal justice reform or bail reform."

Despite the current uptick in homicides, Greenwalt said Austin is still a safe city when compared to other metros. A report released last month by the FBI showed Austin consistently fell around the middle of the deck for crime among 21 similarly-sized cities.

More on murders:

More people were murdered in Austin in 2020 than in any year in the last decade. Here are their names.


Tito's releases (not so?) ugly sweater line for the holidays, profits to charity

Tito's Handmade Vodka

Show your love for Tito's and for the community this year with a wide selection of not that ugly, uglyish, ugly, uglier, and ugliest holiday sweaters.

There's lots choose from, and plenty of accessories like scarves and socks, plus gear for your dog, too.

All of the items can be purchased online or at the Love, Tito’s Retail Store in Austin, TX. 100% of all net proceeds from online or in-store purchases go to one of the nonprofits we’ve teamed up with.

Click here to see the entire collection in the Tito's store.

Mac and Cheese Fest and Free Art Exhibit
Waterloo Greenway, Good Vibrations Installation

🗓 All weekend

🎨 Creek Show Art Exhibit

Check out this highly anticipated art exhibition with illuminated art along Waller Creek. Tickets are free and the event includes food vendors, dazzling lights, live music, and hands-on activities

All weekend 6 p.m - 10 p.m | 📍Waterloo Park

✨ Mozart's Light Show

This iconic holiday tradition lights up for the first time this holiday season starting this weekend! Reserve your spot for an enchanting light and sound performance, delicious hot cocoa, sweet treats, and some overall fun with your friends or family. The show runs till January 6th.

6 p.m and 9 p.m | 📍Mozart's Coffee Roasters - 3825 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX 78703

🗓 Saturday

🥊 Kickboxing in the Park

This fitness event is free and open to the public. Get your morning started right with a "Fitness in the park" class for kickboxing! The class will be led by certified instructors and is a great way to get a cardio workout in while also honing your self-defense skills.

10 a.m - 11 a.m | 📍 Metz Park

🛍 The Front Market

Support local LBGTQ+ and female artists at this outdoor market with over 150 vendors. Get your holiday shopping out of the way at this event, with vendors for food trucks, handmade goods, raffles, hands on workshops and activities, and more.

11 a.m - 5 p.m | 📍Ani's Day and Night - 7107 E Riverside Drive, Austin, TX 78741

🗓 Sunday

🧀 Mac and Cheese Fest

Did someone say cheese?! If you're like me and always willing to get your hands on a bowl of mac and cheese, then this event is for you. Check out the Mac and Cheese festival happening this weekend to decide which vendor has. the best mac and cheese for yourself, and enjoy the bar with creative cocktails while you're at it. Tickets start at $45.

11 a.m - 3 p.m | 📍Lantana Place - 7415 Southwest Parkway